Gooseberry and elderflower jelly

For a brief moment each summer, the gooseberry and elderflower seasons overlap.   Combined, they taste of rural England: verdant and flowery with a refreshing sweet sourness. Since I love home-made jellies almost as much as home-made ice cream, here is my latest recipe, which turns a beautiful champagne-pink as the gooseberry juice turns pink when cooked.

Elder bushes ( Sambucus nigra ) can be found in country lanes and urban car parks, they thrive in waste ground and hedges.   They flower in June and July, blossoming later the further north you travel in Britain. Never pick elderflowers unless you can safely identify them.   Avoid any growing on the borders of farmland that might have been subjected to pesticide spray drifting on the wind.

You can freeze elderflowers to flavour food later in the year, but you must add them frozen to the simmering dish, otherwise they turn nasty.   Freeze for a maximum of six months in small single portion polythene bags.

St-Germain elderflower liqueur is available online:

Serves 4

3 large sprigs elderflowers

900g gooseberries, washed

50ml St-Germain elderflower liqueur or gin (optional)

170g granulated sugar

12g leaf gelatine

When you pick your elderflowers, gently shake the flower heads to remove any unwanted insect life and lay them carefully in a basket or bag. Avoid any blossoms that are infested with insect life or past their best.

Once home, dip the freshly picked elderflowers into a large bowl of cool water.   Gently swish and then leave to dry slightly on paper towelling.

If freezing, place the whole sprays in plastic bags.   Otherwise, snip off the larger green stems and place in a non-corrosive saucepan with 4 tablespoons water and the washed gooseberries.   You don’t need to top and tail the gooseberries for this recipe.

Cover the saucepan and set over a medium low heat.   Stir regularly until the gooseberries release lots of juice. Once they start to bubble, after about 15 minutes, reduce the heat to low and simmer for a further 10 minutes or until they’ve collapsed into a soft mush.  

Arrange a muslin jelly bag or a fine conical sieve over a large bowl.   Tip the gooseberries into the bag or sieve.   Leave for 4 hours or overnight to drip. Measure the juice. You should get around 400ml gooseberry juice.   Add enough water to bring it up to 600ml.

So as not to waste the gooseberries, you could squeeze or push a lot of the remaining gooseberry pulp throw the jelly bag or sieve and use it for gooseberry syllabub – you’ll get about 150ml.   Don’t add it to the jelly mix, it will give it a different texture.

Place the gooseberry juice in a clean non-corrosive saucepan.   Add the sugar, set over a medium heat and stir occasionally until hot and the sugar has dissolved.   Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, put the gelatine leaves in a small bowl.   Cover with cold water and leave to soak for 5 minutes.   Drain and stir into the hot gooseberry juice. Stir until the gelatine has dissolved.   Add the elderflower liqueur – do not substitute with elderflower cordial – it has lemon juice in it and will change the balance of flavours.   Either use gin, or if you’d prefer it to be non-alcoholic, don’t add anything.

Strain the hot liquid into a jug.   It will form a slight froth.   Leave for 30 minutes or until the froth has disappeared.   If necessary, skim, then divide equally between four x 170ml deep soufflé dishes or glass bowls.   Once cool, refrigerate for 5 hours, or until set.












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